Sarajevo Thirty-Two Years after the Olympics


The toboggan run from the 1984 Olympics.

Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is famous for three major world events.  1.)  The assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, the event which sparked World War I.   2.)  Sarajevo Olympics of 1984   3.)  The Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, 1992 – 1995.

First, A Walk Around Sarajevo

Hillside farm outside Sarajevo

Hillside farm a few miles outside Sarajevo

Good Food, as Long as You Like Gravy

After spending too much time in Spain and Portugal with the limited variety of food, the food in Bosnia was a good change.  Likely not so good on a hot day, but with the cool fall weather it was a welcomed experience.  I really try not to photograph food, but here is a typical dish of meat and vegetables most often served in a hot cast iron skillet.

Typical Bosnian food

Typical Bosnian food

TRASH Everywhere

It is such a shame that there is no awareness of littering.  At every scenic pullout there was always a lot of trash.  Here, as in other Eastern European countries, we would watch people toss a sandwich wrapper or a Coke can on the ground.  The lack of concern for the environmental seems to be a characteristic of most third world countries.  I would clearly place Mexico in this category as well.

Trash, Trash, Everywhere

Trash, Trash, Everywhere



Trash caught in the waterfall of the Miljacka River in the center of Sarajevo.


It is surprising to me how many people in Eastern Europe smoke.  I asked our young tour guide about it.  She stated, “We all smoke because it is so cheap.”  How cheap?  A bag of 20 cigarettes shown below cost the equivalent of 53 cents.  Judging from the reaction of the vendors, apparently I was the only tourist who asked to take a photo of the cigs that day.

Ciggarettes for sale, $.53

Cigarettes for sale, $.53

Three Historical World Events in Sarajevo


Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, spanning the Miljacka River, the site of the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophia of Austria, sparking WWI.


History class was never a strength of mine in school.  I’m only interested now because of our travels.


1) The Assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand

The marriage of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie in 1900 caused a bit of turmoil.  Ferdinand’s emperor uncle  refused to attend their wedding.  Sophie, being a mere Czech countess, was treated as a commoner by the Austrian legal system.  By legal decree she could not sit by her husband’s side at any public occasion and their children could not inherit the throne. However, there was a loophole.  Sophie could publicly sit by Archduke Ferdinand if he was acting in a military capacity. Therefore, on their fateful trip to Sarajevo, Ferdinand made plans to inspect the army in Bosnia.  So it came to be that Sophie was sitting by the side of the Archduke, in a convertible automobile, on June 28, 1914, as six assassins tracked their motorcade.

Austria-Hungary had just annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina.  This act was not popular with Serbia, nor the Serbs living in Sarajevo who were the largest ethnic group. Upon learning of the visit by the Archduke, a radical group Serbs began planning the assassination of the Archduke.  Acquiring guns, smuggling them over the borders and even obtaining ammunition presented problems. 


The Archduke of Austria arrives in Sarajevo

The day before the parade in Sarajevo celebrating the Archduke’s arrival, the guns, bombs and cyanide pills were handed out to the six would-be assassins.

Because the parade route had been published in the paper, the leader of the radical group knew where to place his men.  The first assassin failed to act as the motorcade passed.  The second, armed with a pistol and a bomb also failed to act.  The third man armed with only a bomb tossed it at the open convertible carrying the Archduke.  It struck the folded canvas top and bounced under the car following behind and exploded.  It blew a 12 inch hole in the pavement, injured 20 people and put the car out of commission.  The bomber swallowed his cyanide pill, which only induced vomiting.  He then tried to drown himself in the five inches of water in the Miljacka River.  The car with the Archduke and his wife sped away, so the remaining three assassins could not act.

Surprisingly, the political speeches at the Sarajevo Town Hall were held as planned.  Afterwards, officials wondered what to do regarding security.  They thought about bringing troops back from local maneuvers.  This was voted down as these troops would not be dressed properly and might offend the towns people.  Not wishing to bring in additional security, the governor of Sarajevo asked, “Do you think that Sarajevo is full of assassins?”

The rest of the day’s festivities were cancelled in favor of visiting the wounded bombing victims.  For safety reasons, the governor changed the motorcade route, but this alteration did not get conveyed to the driver.  So when the driver failed to turn onto the the new route, the governor yelled at the driver to immediately stop, reverse and make the correct turn.  Unfortunately, just by chance, the car carrying Archduke Ferdinand and his wife stopped five feet from Gavrilo Princip, one of the six assassins.  He quickly fired two shots into the Archduke and one into Sophie, killing them both.


Austria issues an ultimatum

With tensions already running high among Europe’s powers, Austria soon sent Serbia an ultimatum worded in a way that made acceptance unlikely.  Serbia proposed arbitration to resolve the dispute, but Austria-Hungary instead declared war on July 28, 1914, exactly a month after Ferdinand’s death.  By the following week, Germany, Russia, France, Belgium, Montenegro and Great Britain had all been drawn into the conflict.  More than 9 million soldiers and nearly that many civilians would die in fighting that lasted until 1918.


Because so many in Sarajevo strongly disliked rule by the Austrian-Hungarians, they initially renamed the bridge Principov Most (Princip’s Bridge) to memorialize the assassin Gavrilo Princip.


2) The 1984 Winter Olympics


screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-3-19-16-pm-copyThese were the first winter Olympics held in a communist country.  They introduced the world to what seemed to be a quaint mountain town.  Without knowing Sarajevo through the hours of athletic competition on the TV we likely would not have made this trip.

1984 Olympic symbols, then and now.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are slowly trying to recover from the war in the 1990s, so it is no surprise there are no funds to rebuild or maintain the Olympic stadiums.

The contrast is startling, thinking about the cheering crowds, film crews and high hopes of the athletes from around the world in 1984.  Today there is only trash, graffiti and the occasional taxi or tour van with inquiring tourists.  Being a skier, I remember the Olympics for the twin Mahre brothers from the USA, capturing gold and silver in the slalom event.


Graffiti filled section of the 1984 toboggan run.

3) The Siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian War, 1992 – 1995

After the death of Yugoslavia’s strongman leader Marshal Tito in 1980, his policy of containment between the three main ethnic groups underwent a dramatic reversal.  The three groups, Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks and Croats formed a loose coalition to boot out the Communists.  However, they then could not agree whether to stay with the Yugoslav Federation favored among Serbs or to seek independence, overwhelmingly favored by the Bosniaks and Croats.  Late in 1991 a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia was held.  The Serbs boycotted the vote, so obviously the vote for independence sailed through by a huge majority.  Shootings, killings and violence between these ethnic groups escalated throughout the city.  In early April 1992 the European community and the United States announced that their countries would recognize the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Within a week, Serbian forces from Yugoslavia encircled the city of Sarajevo and began the blockade on May 2, 1992.


From these hillsides surrounding the city Serbs would relentlessly shell the population below during the siege.  There were over 14,000 fatalities, including over 5,000 civilians.  With no access to the mountains for firewood, most of the trees in the city were cut down by the citizens since power and heat were cut off during the siege.

Clearly the toboggan run from the 1984 Olympics was of no military benefit.  However, the Croats shelled much of it, making it no longer useful.


Graffiti filled Olympic toboggan run


With our visit to this war torn country over, we are ready to drive back to Croatia.



6 thoughts on “Sarajevo Thirty-Two Years after the Olympics

  1. What tragic stories. I bet (as would I) would be more interested in history as a kid if they slipped in a crazy assassination story like that. WoW.
    It’s too bad for the litter and graffiti but at least it’s done as professional art rather than just gang tags, or maybe the gang just got their artists to do it.

    • I had even more history to put in but my other half said it was tooooo gory. Some of the victims recollections and accounts were so horrific I wish I had not read them….

  2. I well remember the 1984 Olympics and it was very controversial having them in a Communist country. Many of the athletes boycotted and it was a big deal for us brought up on the notion that Communism bad Democracy good period…black and white no shades of gray… The county side is just beautiful. I would like to know why they wanted the assassination. I will do more research!

  3. Your writing makes reading about history interesting. The trash/litter is sad. My inlaws would agree that it is an Eastern European way of living. Hopefully one day they will use the trash cans. The greens in the photos draw you in…sad to know that when you get close there is trash. As always enjoy your posts! Happy New Year!

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